Religious organisations and charities still refusing to admit past crimes

A nun and children at Smyllum orphanage.

SCOTLAND must move more swiftly to deliver justice to victims of historic abuse, a leading lawyer argues.

Laura Connor says religious organisations and charities are still refusing to admit past crimes, despite the pledges of polticians to seek truth and justice for victims.

Ms Connor said: “Despite the signals coming from our parliament, and politicians making it abundantly clear they want justice for thousands of historic abuse victims who have been suffering for decades, not a single charity, church or local authority has said it will settle claims.

“It’s hugely disappointing they appear determined to drag cases through our civil court system, something that not only takes many years but is expensive and causes more stress and upset for those who have already suffered too much.

“We have cases where the evidence is overwhelming, there are numerous victims who can corroborate claims, but still we have no organisation prepared to end the agony for the children whose lives were destroyed by what happened under their watch.

“Politicians took the final step of removing the three-year time bar which prevented victims making claims as they recognised it was time for Scotland’s historic abuse victims to get the justice they deserve for the horror they suffered.

“The organisations involved need to grow up and face their responsibilities and allow survivors to get on with what is left of their lives.”

Ms Connor, who heads up the specialist abuse survivors department of Thompsons Solicitors, said the firm has hundreds of cases across Scotland, with claims of sexual and physical abuse, children being raped, beaten and traumatised.

As a mother herself, she finds it “extremely difficult” not to get angry at the way victims were treated, vilified and ignored.

She said: “Every day I hear about the most sickening abuses imaginable. These things happened to children who were already the most vulnerable in our society.

“They were failed. They are still being failed. And it has to stop.”

Ms Connor questions who really benefits from continuing to “drag cases through court”, demanding victims revisit the abuse they suffered time and again.

She said: “When there is good evidence, who does it benefit to drag victims through the lengthy court process.

“That can take years. It’s costly. It’s cruel.

“The legal system moves so slowly.

“Despite the damning evidence against them, those organisations involved still seem determined to defend the indefensible instead of settling quickly, allowing victims to move on.

“We have evidence of priests and nuns accused of the most dreadful sexual and physical abuse.

“As a mother, it’s hard to hear these dreadful things. But these survivors have incredible strength and resilience, so many are inspirational people who have overcome the worst things imaginable.

“I’m proud to say my job is to ensure they get justice for what happened to them.

“I believe it is time for those organisations to take a long hard look at how they want society to view them in future.

“They must consider the true cost. No amount of money can replace a lost childhood, but an apology and commitment to repair the damage can change broken lives.

“People heal. They can go on. But they need justice to be able to do that.”

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, established in 2015, has been extended and no longer has to report within four years. It has heard harrowing evidence from witnesses claiming to have been abused at a number of care homes and institutions, including Smyllum orphanage in Lanarkshire where, we revealed last year, up to 400 children were buried in an umarked grave.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has agreed the inquiry should report “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

But, survivors say, they not only want justice now, many need justice now.

Ms Connor said: “Survivors had an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness.

“They weren’t able to control what happened to them, and for years they weren’t able control whether they got justice.

“Now the law has changed, we are urging survivors to ‘Take Justice’, to take control and move forward.

“This is a unique moment. They need to grasp it. Too many have passed away without seeing the justice they deserved.

“We had the public apology from the Government, then years of nothing happening until the law was changed, removing the time bar.

“The abuse inquiry was instigated, but so many came forward, there is no end in sight. We do not know if or when there will be a compensation scheme set up by government, or who will be responsible.

“The time is right for us to face up to what was correctly called Scotland’s shame, and do what we can to repair the damage as quickly as possible, with care and compassion for those we failed.”